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Judge Rules 142-Year-Old DC Church Can Hold Outdoor Worship Despite Mayor's COVID Restrictions

The Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. (Images credit: Dhousch and Farragutful via Wikimedia Commons)

A federal judge has ruled that Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, can hold outdoor services despite the COVID restrictions placed by Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Judge Trevor McFadden insisted, "It is for the church, not the District or this court, to define for itself the meaning of 'not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together'."

The Justice Department filed a statement of interest on Oct. 2 in federal district court in DC, arguing the Constitution and federal law require the District of Columbia to accommodate Capitol Hill Baptist Church's (CHBC) effort to hold worship services outdoors, at least to the same extent the District of Columbia allows other forms of outdoor First Amendment activity, such as peaceful protests. 

As CBN News reported late last month, CHBC, a congregation with a 142-year history and more than 850 members, filed a lawsuit against the District and the mayor for the restrictions placed on gatherings of more than 100 people to worship. 

"Since its founding in 1878, CHBC has met in-person every Sunday except for three weeks during the Spanish Flu in 1918," the church said in a statement. "That changed following Mayor Bowser's first orders concerning COVID-19 on March 11, 2020."

CHBC notes that Mayor Bowser has permitted mass gatherings and protests over racial equality where hundreds of people assembled, yet her orders prohibit gatherings of more than 100 people for the purpose of worship. 

The church even sought a permit to hold outdoor worship services in excess of the 100-person limit but was denied by the city. And CHBC pointed out the importance of in-person worship services since the church does not have an online ministry.

"I am gratified that the court upheld the right of worshippers in the District of Columbia to exercise their First Freedom of religious exercise, in a safe manner," said Acting US Attorney Michael Sherwin for the District of Columbia.

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